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Is Camera Specific Training and Certification Worth It

 

Published : 4th August 2013

I've been hemming and hawing over getting camera-specific training. One of the courses I've been looking at is the ALEXA-Intensive workshop at AbelCine.

I don't doubt for a minute the quality of training I would receive from AbelCine. But is "certification" useful or getting listed on their technician list worth the investment to attain more work?

I see their list of technicians for the Phantom is much, much longer. I know that camera REQUIRES a tech to be rented, but it's not a camera I ever encounter in the type of work I book. The ALEXA seems like a much more practical choice.

Has anyone else taken these courses and found them helpful? Does anyone have any other recommendations for training?

Regards,

Jeremy Parsons, MFA
Camera Assistant
LA Based / SF Local
415-577-9679


Jeremy Parsons wrote:

>>But is "certification" useful or getting listed on their technician list worth the investment to attain more >>work?

I'll let others reply on the value of our courses, but two quick notes: One, as noted on our website, we do not "certify" the attendees of our classes as that has specific legal ramifications. Two, the simple reason the Phantom list is much longer is because we've been teaching that class for many years. It's our original first training course. Also, some attendees take the Alexa class but choose not to be listed on our website.

Mitch Gross
Applications Specialist
AbelCine NY
One of the creators and teachers of the
AbelCine Alexa Intensive Workshop.


Jeremy,

I have not personally taken any of the AbelCine classes however, my question to you would be how long have you been an AC?

If you've been an AC for awhile and are experienced with other cameras, you can learn the Alexa during prep.

I'm guessing by your question that you don't have a lot of experience though. There is so much more to being a Camera Assistant than learning a specific camera. I would suggest you first find an AC willing to take you under his/her wing and ask lots of questions, spend some time at the rental houses, hang out on set. When I first started, I went out on commercials as a camera PA and worked for free for the experience. You need a lot of practice and knowledge before anyone will be comfortable with you handling camera equipment.

Good luck.

Andy Hoehn
First Assistant Camera
Atlanta, GA


An Alexa M (XT or EV) class would be beneficial for an AC because of all the unique issues of dealing with Fibre/Power/Speed/Cooling etc. It’s not just about being a good focus puller but being a fixer of all types of
situations in Camera Dept. Working at a Rental House than onset has always been a win-win for most ACs.

Does the Abel class address the LDS system and how to map a "dumb" lens into the lens data archive?

As a SF local you might reach out to some of the experience ACs like Pat McArdle, Rod Williams, Paul Marbury, John Gazdik, Rich Gunnerman, Vance Piper, Jeremy Wong etc. They have tons of experience so you maybe fortunate enough for them to take you on a job or a prep?

Good times,

Dane Brehm
ICGDIT : Fixer
San Francisco, CA
www.prettymovingpictures.com


I've been diligent in familiarizing myself with many of the digital cameras as they're released, including the Alexa. I am confident I'll recall most of it during prep. The exception being a shoot with something like an off-board recorder I haven't much experience with.

Unfortunately, most of my work these days is in low budget commercials and reality TV. It pays the rent and gets me my days toward the union membership (sometimes), but it's not the work I want to do in the long term. I'm trying to find ways to push out side of or appeal to potential employers outside my current circle of work.

As for my original question; I was curious if having some extra credentials or getting on a training list would help with getting jobs outside from what I'm already booking. According to the replies I have gotten so far, it appears not.

Thanks for your advice.

regards,

Jeremy Parsons
Camera Department
415.577.9679 (LA Based / SF Local)


>>>As for my original question; I was curious if having some extra credentials or getting on a training list >>would help with getting jobs outside from what I'm already booking. According to the replies I have gotten >>so far, it appears not.

Yeah, I hate to say this, but that kind of stuff doesn't matter much. I remember when I was in your position and I'd include equipment I knew and classes I'd taken on my resume, but in the end it was people seeing the names of others they knew on my growing resume that got me more work.

It's not enough to show that you've had some sort of technical training. The package is not only what you know, but how well you learn, how well you play with others, and how well you handle pressure. You can't express that on a resume, but if your resume shows who you've worked with then that gives potential employers someone to call to check up on you. That's how you'll get gigs as an assistant.

The more you work with people outside of your current circle the more contacts you'll make, so it might be worth focusing on that and seeing where it leads you.

You'll only get hired if you meet or exceed the comfort factor, and if you can show that other people are comfortable working with you you'll have a lot more credit than if you passed a class or not. Anyone can pass a class, but class credit doesn't show what you really know or how you use the
knowledge.

Art Adams
Director of Photography
San Francisco Bay Area | CA | USA


When digi cams first started to appear, I would sometimes be asked if I had used such and such a camera, RED One, EX1 ... but that doesn't seem to happen anymore. The prep is pretty much where you learn the camera. Tech preps can go over it with you. I've downloaded manuals before a prep to start learning about it. I'm fortunate to usually have DIT's that know the ins and outs of the things they need to know. But yes it can be a bit much to try to remember everything and then get a Codex Recorder added. With so much different gear out there it really is very difficult to remember everything anyway, so one often needs a prep refresher.

Even though I've used the Epic many many times, it's still can be a bit baffling trying to find certain things. I hear that's going to be changing in the near future.

Mako/Makofoto, S. Pasadena, CA


I would imagine attending these training courses would not only familiarize you with the gear technically, but also be good networking
opportunities.

Some AC's who work regularly and have been around a while tend to be at these things for 'hands on' training with the new toys.

I don’t see how it wouldn’t be beneficial on some level.

Jonathan Bowerbank
Camera Assistant
San Francisco, CA
m: 415-320-9391


Mako Koiwai wrote:

>> The prep is pretty much where you learn the camera. Tech preps can go over it with you.

I know I have a horse in this race, but I have to say that even before I ever worked at AbelCine I took issue with this attitude. No way can you learn all of the gotchas on every piece of gear without spending some proper time on them beforehand. Some of these cameras have hundreds of possible settings - good luck on spending a few minutes with a prep tech to get familiar with them all. It's irresponsible.

I liken it to how most people learn just barely enough of a program like Excel or Word to accomplish their basic tasks, but have no clue how to perform the thousands of other functions these applications are capable of. When someone asks you to do that function you're screwed.

What are the four places to set frame rate on the Alexa and why do you need to pay attention to all of them? What setting is crucial when switching a VariCam from US 59.97i to EU 25p? On an Aaton LTR, what is important to know when using an outboard crystal speed control?

If you were my AC on a shoot and didn't know these very important settings, you may just have ruined the day's shoot. You wouldn't be coming back tomorrow.

We offer a class on the Alexa so that people who plan to shoot with it understand how it works and what it's capabilities are. It's a full day to make sure you're comfortable with the machine so that you can go out and shoot with some sense of confidence.

When I was first starting out, if I was ever called to use a new piece of gear I'd jump through hoops to learn about it so that I'd never be caught with my pants down on set. I couldn't sleep at night if I didn't.

Mako, I don't mean to call you to task. A lot of people have this attitude, but not everyone. We run classes on various topics because people have asked us to. And I truly believe we offer value in the class. They're a lot more than what a prep tech will tell you during a checkout.

Mitch Gross
Applications Specialist
AbelCine NY


Mitch Gross wrote:

>>Mako, I don't mean to call you to task. A lot of people have this attitude, but not everyone.

Of course, which is why my work is my life to a large extent.

Especially since DIT's earn more than me, I DO expect them to hold up their part of the deal and know their side of the settings. But yes, I have found that one needs to know "everything" so that one can double check.

I DO field a lot of phone calls on the camera settings, and not just about GoPros. Last week it was, "Why can we only go to a 358 degree shutter with our Alexa?"

Since I DO find it impossible to remember everything, I DO keep manuals of everything I use on my iPad/iPhone/Air. I remember back in High School, we took some type of general aptitude test. I wasn't exceptional in anything except I believe it was called Research. I knew where to find answers. :-) (Thank you CML!)

I'm pretty darn good with the gear that I have to use. I'm excellent at thinking/problem solving on my feet. (Rebuilt part of a VistaVision during lunch so we could keep shooting. Figured out what was wrong with a WRC/435/Helicopter in a driving rain storm in a field in Wales, replacing three eproms. Rebuilt an Arri3 movement on a boat in the middle of the ocean.) I don't use Varicam's or Aaton LT's so I haven't bothered with them. I did discover some things about the 435 while working with Jon Fauer, while he was writing his book, that even he didn't know.

You force me to play my trump card!

http://images16.fotki.com/v369/photos/4/43793/4909192/435FauerCredit032-vi.jpg


Mako/Makofoto, S. Pasadena, CA


Mako Koiwai wrote:

>> Of course, which is why my work is my life to a large extent.

Mako, I know you know your stuff and that you live and breathe it. But not everyone is you. And this is a thread that started with someone asking if he should take a training course. A lot of people read CML and the take away they might get is "Mako says I can learn all I need to know at a checkout."

That's a license for laziness for many and a recipe for failure for a large part of them. It is to these people, the thousands of lurkers on CML, to whom I address my statements.

Mitch Gross
Applications Specialist
AbelCine NY


I think there are many good points being made all around. Mako is not incorrect when he states that the checkout is where an AC can learn the camera, but I would add that the checkout the day before the shoot isn't the ONLY day an AC should try to learn a camera. (I'm quite sure that's not what Mako meant, either.) Also, depending on which camera rental house you're using, the prep techs will not always be the most knowledgeable. Some are younger and less experienced than the ACs checking out the gear and have not learned the specifics of each system. So you can't always rely on a prep tech to teach you on your checkout day. Additionally, cameras, software, lenses, wireless systems, monitors, on-board recorders, accessories, etc, etc...all these things are changing, constantly and quickly and it's near impossible to always be 100% informed.

In regards to a camera-specific training class, I would say that if you have the money and time then take the class. Don't expect, however, to walk away from the class and be able, two weeks or two months later, to recall every detail of the camera, Alexa in this example, that was discussed in the class. Camera software changes, OFTEN, and the next time you go to a checkout you'll notice that something is different and you'll have to learn it on the spot, at the checkout. As camera assistants that's simply what we do. And every job is different, so there are innumerable variables to account for. Some scenarios you'll be able to work through in a class, some in a checkout, but some you'll have to work through on set, relying on the knowledge you gained from previous jobs, checkouts, conversations with DITs and ACs, classes you took, articles you read, etc.

The only camera training class I took was Abel's Phantom Technician class and I thought it was great. I learned a ton and I'm glad I took it. But I didn't, at all, feel 100% comfortable, at the end of the class, to call myself a Phantom Technician. Even though I knew the camera and had learned how to operate it, I didn't KNOW the camera well enough to be able, on set in front of director, DP, multiple producers, actors, etc competently and confidently BE the one and only technician responsible for the setup of the camera and the successful outcome of the content shot with the camera. I knew myself and I knew that I didn't know enough. So I went back to Abel, on my off days, about once per month for many months and spent a day in their checkout bay with the Phantom, shooting random things and working through the workflow. And the times I was hired as a Phantom Technician, I did the checkout and used that time to refresh my knowledge of the camera.

Now, I know the original question was regarding the Alexa, which (at least to me) is a simpler camera to deal with, but I wanted to pass along that info about my class as an example to you.

You gotta do your own homework, which you seem interested to do. Anytime you're not working is a good time to be at a rental house, spending the day with a camera...and meeting new ACs and new DPs who are also at the rental houses. That's how you get more work!

A few years ago, I counted that I had worked on 12 different cameras (film and HD) in 6 months. Was I an "expert" with these cameras? Absolutely not! But I knew enough to get the job done and get it done right. And I learned a lot from each checkout and each job.

Good luck!

Daniel Fiorito
ICG 600 Camera Assistant/Phantom Camera Technician, NY
mobile: 703-850-5079
website: www.redarcherfilms.com


Mako Koiwai writes :

>>I don't use Varicam’s or Aaton LT's so I haven't bothered with them.

Mako, please pack your knives and go.

Anderson, Jeff
Los Angeles, CA
Camera


Daniel Fiorito wrote:

>> the prep techs will not always be the most knowledgeable.

I meant that the rental house will send over their certified Head of HD/Digital, etc. to go over the camera. Yes, that can be a problem at little rental houses.

Even in the "old" film days there could be problems. I once had a top feature AC come in to fill in for me. Turns out he was a Panavision guy and had never worked with an Arri BL and didn't know how to thread it. So my 2nd laced up the camera for him that day. Btw, the BL is the easiest, fastest camera to thread.

A more current issue. I brought in a young techie AC to fill in for me on a simple table top job. It didn't occur to me that he might never have threaded an Arri3, the shooters personal camera. I got a call, "How do you thread this thing!" Btw, that's the 2nd easiest 35 mm camera to thread. But yes, not knowing either camera could have been disastrous.

Yes, the days of the AC just having to think FAST - Focus, Aperture, Shutter, Tachometer, i.e. FPS) are over.

I remember when I was prepping the 2nd Arri 535 in the US (the first one went to the Church of Scientology). It was privately owned but I was prepping at a rental house. I was working out of the cardboard boxes that the camera, mags and accessories came in, while reading the manuals. Other AC's were laughing, but that was the start of a new age in computer controlled cameras. Btw. neither the owner nor I knew that Arri had switched the polarity of the three pin power cables. The rental house didn't have three pin (24v) batteries, and my personal batteries were Panavision configuration. So while we waited for reversing cables to be made we used the Arri AC adapter that the owner/Dp had thoughtfully purchased, with a long extension cord for the dolly shot. It was the first time I had used an AC adapter with a 35 mm film camera. Now we use them all of the time.

Rental houses didn't like to use AC adapters in the past because they said they couldn't guarantee the quality of the local power source.

It was crazy trying to figure out how the Arri CCU (Computer Control Unit) worked. The manual told you what it did but not how to do it?!

Mako/Makofoto, the flip side of getting to be first, S. Pasadena, Ca


Jeff Anderson wrote:

>> I don't use Varicam’s or Aaton LT's so I haven't bothered with them.

Mako, please pack your knives and go.

I HAVE used them, in another life time. Varicam was cool because you could playback at the slow speeds we liked to play with back then and you could preview the amount of blur one was going to get. If I recall correctly you needed an add on modular to see high speed play back?

The wonderful LT ... easiest loading mags ... the opposite of the hardest loading Aaton 35 mags!

When we use to check out cameras in the ASC Manuals, it was just to double check camera and magazine threading. We really didn't need manuals to be able to use the cameras themselves.

Mako/Makofoto, S. Pasadena, CA


Mako,

Just a reality competition joke, what they say on Top Chef. Don't really like explaining jokes, but just a comedic comment about the competition of 'what's the right answer'.

Yeah, you can just load the whole reel backwards if you didn't know the difference between Panavision/Mitchell and the rent of the world. (9P-99)

Personally, I've never loaded film or threaded a camera on set, probably never will.

I do agree with you that being an AC really isn't a technical job, the way a camera house technician is...I don't go in the back when they shim a lens and observe. I just let them know what's wrong; as it's not a skill set that I posses, nor do I need. (I do want to learn though, but I'd rather be certain about the focal distance of a subject on screen, by knowing the millimetres of the lens being used)

I've always look at AC'ing as assisting the DP or Operator(sometimes they are the same) in being efficient and productive as possible. There are a million ways to do that, one is being very knowledgeable about the camera, but there are a million other things.

With the O.P; being a 2nd AC to 1st that just moved up, could be a good way to learn with someone that's still learning and won't have unrealistic expectations.

Also need AC tools and equipment and willing to work 18 hours strait.

http://www.theblackandblue.com/2011/12/15/camera-assistant-toolkit/

Be in shape, it's a physically demanding job.

Black and Blue has some interesting blogs about the craft.

http://www.theblackandblue.com/

I remember this advice like it was yesterday, it came from someone that had 30+ year in the business, "There are a lot of assholes on set. A lot of guys that are burned out and don't want to be there. Don't be one of those people."

My advice is, there are a lot of bad Cinematographers out there; they're
frustrated, confused and looking to blame and take it out on anyone below them. Don't take it personal.

Lastly, worked for a DP that said on the first day, 'we wanted to get me
friend that normally Firsts' for me, but he was busy'...as the shoot went
on and he was surprised by tools or processes I demonstrated...I soon found out that his friend wasn't a better AC than me, but that he was his friend.

Jeff Anderson
Camera
Los Angeles, CA


Of course one main reason for having to know all of the main cameras is that you often go in doing extra camera, where you didn't have a prep. It's always a good idea for the folks that did do the prep to make sure that the extra camera(s) are correctly configured to match the lead cameras. We often end up helping each other out when it comes time to change settings in terms of speed and caution. That's where it's nice to have an active DIT to help out on the set.

Mako/Makofoto, S. Pasadena, CA


If you can learn Alexa, Epic and F55 you'll know enough of the basics to walk up to any camera and figure out how it works. Each camera's settings will be different because there's no standard for determining how much detail you're introducing into the image by tweaking a control, for example, or how much saturation is removed by taking the matrix level down to -10 because that number means different things in different cameras, but you'll at least know what controls what and which functions you can touch and what you should leave alone.

Art Adams
Director of Photography
San Francisco Bay Area | CA | USA


I would say the Dp better know about those thing more than the AC. The AC needs to know WHERE to make those adjustments. And he should be able to say there is no such adjustment on a Alexa.

(Just like a digital Dp should know what he's doing when he lowers the ISO instead of or in addition to adding ND's when it's bright, and especially contrasty.)

Mako/Makofoto, S. Pasadena, CA


Art Adams (CML)" wrote:

>> If you can learn Alexa, Epic and F55 you'll know enough of the basics to walk up to any camera and figure >>out how it works.

You might learn the basics, but then you'll only know how to use it in the most basic way. If you don't learn what the camera is capable of then you won't know what you can get out of it. What happens when you change the ISO on an Alexa v. an Epic v. a C500 v. an F55? They are all different, even in how this effects the RAW output option.

If you want to know enough just to get by I guess you're entitled to that. I like to know what I can do. The first time I shoot on any camera that's new to me I test it to see "where it breaks". It teaches me so much and I always find that quick shortcut to some function that ends up useful on set. No fun trying to figure it out while everyone's staring you down.

Mitch Gross
Applications Specialist
AbelCine NY


The Red Epic doesn't have a 'RAW output option'

Guess the Alexa XT has in Camera RAW Recording...

Jeff Anderson
Camera
Los Angeles, CA


Mitch Gross wrote:

>>If you want to know enough just to get by I guess you're entitled to that.

Mitch, I hate to say it but you're becoming the master of reading into messages things that aren't actually there.

Alexa is its own beast, as is Epic. F55 is enough of a classically designed camera to give you a taste of how they act differently to Alexa and Epic. As I stated in my previous post, knowing enough of the basics of how these cameras work gives you the tools to walk up to any camera and "figure out how it works."

At no time did I say that knowing the basics of all three cameras is "all you need to know and you'll never have to know more than the basics or study how a camera works ever again;" rather I spoke of this knowledge as a jumping-off point, which means--now humour me on this--that you can use that basic knowledge to experiment and acquire more knowledge when coming in contact with a camera you've never worked with before.

You seem to think I'm telling people that the jumping-off point is all they need in itself, when the actual "raison d’être" of a jumping-off point is to help you jump further than you could without it.

If I said what you seem to think I said then I would have written, "If you learn Alexa, Epic and F55 then you'll know everything about how every camera works and you don't need to do any more learning at all because you'll know everything you need to know about every camera ever, really."

Did I say this? No.

Please respond only to what I'm actually saying, not what you think I'm saying.

And, in case you haven't noticed by now, I'm the last person who is happy knowing a camera just well enough to get by--to the consternation and enlightenment of a number of manufacturers.

Art Adams
Director of Photography
San Francisco Bay Area | CA | USA


>> I test it to see "where it breaks".

The basis of all my workshops!!

It's amazing how almost nobody knows what changing the ISO on these cameras does, or doesn't, do.

I think it really surprised Brisbane & Melbourne.

Any good training will help but practical experience is essential.

>> Mitch, I hate to say it but you're becoming the master of reading into messages things that aren't actually >>there.

Maybe Stealer Wheel can help.

Album notes from their 1972 album...

"We know that you believe you understand what you think we said, but we are not sure you realise that what you heard is not what we meant."

Maybe it should be at the start of every CML message!!

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS
EU based cinematographer
www.gboyle.co.uk
+44 (0)207 748 3238


Is that Gerry Rafferty?

Jeff Anderson
Camera
Los Angeles


>Is that Gerry Rafferty?

Oh yes

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS
EU based cinematographer
www.gboyle.co.uk
+44 (0)207 748 3238


"Art Adams (CML) wrote:

>>You seem to think I'm telling people that the jumping-off point is all they need in itself, when the actual >>"raison d’être" of a jumping-off point is to help you jump further than you could without it.

Art, please see my side of it. I know you fully vet the gear you use. But you are unlike many others. This is not private email. Several thousand people subscribe to these lists. When I respond I am often addressing myself to them.

Every week we have people, often ACs, come in for a checkout and expect our staff to suddenly drop everything and show them how to use gear that they clearly have no clue how to even begin to approach. We do our best but if you waltz in at 3pm on Friday you have to expect we're gonna be a little busy.

I have no problem with "Where's this function again?" and "How is this different from the previous model?" questions. No one can be expected to have everything memorized and be up on the latest firmware that just posted this morning. That's our job.

I wouldn't make a fuss if I didn't see the problem a lot. I didn't misread your post as much as I'm afraid others will. Sorry if I put words in your mouth.

Mitch Gross
Applications Specialist
AbelCine NY


>> Every week we have people, often ACs, come in for a checkout and expect our staff to suddenly drop >>everything and show them how to use gear that they clearly have no clue how to even begin to approach.

Mitch,

I completely understand this and my first post probably came across this way when I said you can learn the camera at check out. In hindsight, I should have been more clear when I was trying to tell the OP that taking a class and learning one camera does not make you an AC, there is much more to it than that. He needs to spend time with an experienced Assistant (probably years) and learn everything he needs to in order to be a competent Assistant.

Andy Hoehn
First Assistant Camera
Atlanta, GA